Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions, shares birthday traditions to start with your children this year, including the many ways to decorate with balloons, celebrating half birthdays, and a thoughtful party favor.
One of the best ways to celebrate birthdays is with balloons, which are not only a perfect symbol for the pumped-up excitement of a kid on this day but are also incredibly versatile.
1. Chairs and Beds: Get a bouquet of helium balloons and tie them to your child’s chair at dinner, to designate the “birthday girl” or “birthday boy.” Or tie a Mylar helium balloon to the end of your sleeping child’s bed (it must be Mylar to last overnight; a regular balloon filled with helium will sink by morning).
2. Balloon Countdown: As toddlers, her kids constantly asked, “How many days till my birthday?” so Debbie Midcalf created a balloon ritual for counting down the days. A week or so before the birthday, she blows up balloons, one for each day, and hangs them on a string across the dining room. All the balloons are the same color, except the last one, which represents the actual birthday. Every day her child gets to pop one balloon, then count how many are left.
3. Balloon Forest: A great way to decorate your dining room for a birthday feast is to get twenty-five to fifty regular balloons, in bright colors, inflated with helium. When you get them home, separate the ribbons and let the balloons bounce up to the ceiling. Keep the ribbons long, just reaching to the top of the table, so you have to look at each other through a forest of ribbons. An ordinary room becomes magical.
4. Balloon Wishes: After blowing out candles, take your child outside with three helium-filled balloons. Let the child make three wishes, and for each silent wish, let go of one balloon.
A Stepmom Steps Up for Half-Birthdays
Linda McKittrick understands the stepmother’s dilemma: You want to create traditions with your husband’s kids, but you run the risk of looking pushy and you can’t interfere with beloved existing traditions. But something like a half-birthday, which isn’t a regular big deal, allows a chance to develop a new ritual, and grow a new relationship.
When her stepdaughter was 11, Linda moved in with J’s father. Before long, she was trying to think about ideas for rituals that would make the three of them feel like a family. One of her ideas was to celebrate J’s half birthday, but celebrate it each year in a different way. One year they hand-cranked ice cream, another year she took the girl to high tea with a girlfriend, all dressed up. “The important thing is to focus on the changing, ever-evolving her,” Linda says. “This year she turned 25 and a half and we celebrated by going to her favorite Indian restaurant. We brought a Zen card deck and just played with it, not to predict things but for her to zero in on her own intentions. It was quite revealing and she said it was her best half-birthday yet.”
Susan Wagoner makes special CDs for her daughters on their birthdays. She thinks of songs during the year, especially the month before. “I have found that most love songs can be used as a mother singing to her child, and I’ve used things like “She’s Got a Way” by Billy Joel and Olivia Newton John’s “Let Me Be There.” I burn loads of copies and give them out as party favors. I include “good” music like the Beatles, Van Morrison, etc. so they won’t just listen to Radio Disney stuff! We listen to these CDs over and over in the car.” How perfect: music to play during the party, and a memento to give the guests.
Reprinted with permission from THE BOOK OF NEW FAMILY TRADITIONS © 2012 by Meg Cox, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
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